make behavior change easier woman on bed contemplating behavior change

Behavior Change: why is it so hard?

Behavior change might be on your agenda this time of year. Maybe besides losing the holiday weight, it’d be nice to drop a few additional pounds and get in shape. You’ve been swearing you’ll afford that vacation and this is it! Maybe this is the year to find love or really improve relationship once and for all. You’ve said it before but this truly is the year to pay attention to your health, finances, or relationship!

I know you’re ready and you’ve been trying really hard for the past couple weeks.

Still, some stats tell us only 8% (or up to 18% in the optimistic findings) successfully keep our New Year’s resolutions. If you’ve almost given up already, you’re not alone.

But don’t let the statistics fool you. Humans are highly capable of behavior change. It’s part of what separates us from other life forms.

The way you go about doing it is what sets apart those who manage to transform their lives (er, their bodies, bank accounts, or relationship experience) and those whose movement in the world remains relatively the same year after year, decade after decade.

Successful Behavior Change

It helps to understand some things about the human animal. We were made to conserve energy. Keep that in mind when you decide what and how to change and make it as easy on yourself as possible. You’ll give yourself the best chance of making that change permanent and be more likely to achieve your desired outcome.

Here are three great things to do to make it as easy as possible (and 10x more likely it will stick.)

1. Combine behaviors

Combine an already-habit with a desired one for easy behavior change. For instance, examine what you do automatically that produces a “good” return on your investment. It might be brushing your teeth. Do you automatically brew coffee first thing? Maybe it’s watching your favorite show. Every single one of these things you do “almost without thinking” has a positive return for you (or you wouldn’t have made it a habit in the first place.)

Just so you know, I am not arguing the good in caffeine or TV viewing… or brushing your teeth, for that matter. I’m not arguing anything. The point is to pick something that you do automatically and that you LIKE because it’s pleasurable, easy, or has a good payoff…even as small as liking the feeling of a clean mouth.

Now, marry that to something else beneficial. Maybe you want to drink more water. Or add a daily stretching routine. Maybe you’re trying to add some meditation. Do it while the coffee brews. The stretches don’t have to be long. Even three minutes of meditation makes a difference. Getting hydrated in the am while the coffee brews is a perfect time for that. Meditating while brushing your teeth? I say it’s possible.

And yes, combine a good thing with a less healthy habit: drinking a beer after work for example. If you already drink the beer, adding the additional more healthy behavior will, in fact, still make a significant difference.

2. Small behavior change first

… because small behavior changes last. (See what I did there?)

We all get pretty gung-ho when it comes to behavior changes. And yes, when you get good insight and put action to it, you will see some pay offs that make a difference right away.

But do not underestimate the power of small, incremental changes added over time. These will change your life. And if you combine them with things you already do, you will barely feel the difference.

Don’t believe me? I just committed to contributing an additional 3%…just THREE percent… to my long-term investing. At a super-moderate yield, in ten short years, that 3% alone will net an additional 75 THOUSAND dollars. SEVENTY FIVE THOUSAND BIG ONES. And that’s not even combining it with other investing. That’s JUST the 3% figured alone.

Not a friend of compound interest yet? You need to meet.

I will barely feel that three percent allocation. In fact, I pretty much won’t. It’s being moved from one account draw (where it earns absolutely ZERO) to the other.

Is that the only financial change I’ll make and call it good? No. But I am not all black and white and hot and bothered about this one either. I am not waiting until I have something HUGE to invest. I am not requiring myself to get all my ducks in a row before I start moving small amounts that will make a big difference. Which leads me to this:

3. Conquer all-or-nothing thinking

It never helped anyone. Ever. Honestly.

All-or-nothing thinking just keeps people stuck. It keeps them having the same experience in life and in relationship over and over and over again. It fosters paralysis. And a collasping, “ah just screw it” response when a little snag comes up.

Just change one little thing today. One little thing next week. (Not tomorrow either…give yourself at least a week if not THREE weeks to make a real adjustment.) At the end of the year, that’s 52 (and if you did one every 21 days that’s still SEVENTEEN) additional corrective improvements. That’s a lot of improvements.

It’s not true that you need to figure it all out or make drastic changes or that you can’t move until everything is prepped and ready to go. It’s not that six sessions of marriage or relationship counseling will transform your relationship forever. (There should be some movement in six sessions, and you should gain insight but a lot of that is going to be small, internal, and make the biggest difference implemented in real changes practiced over time.)

Look, we love dramatic transformations. We love rags-to-riches and underdog victories and come-from-behind wins. We love get-rich-quick schemes and fast happy relationships that form and gel into a “happily ever after” in an hour and 43 minutes. That’s all good. These are pretty sweet stories. But they are not common, realistic, and they are not even the whole story.

Gentleness, my friends, is the key to getting over black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking. Just try being gentle and rigid at the same time. You can’t. You CAN, however, be gentle and loving while being firm at the same time.

Gentle is key in Behavior Change

I know some of you think you need to be hard on yourself to get results. You think if you’re not punishing or pushing yourself, you’ll wimp out and cave to the other extreme. That’s the very nature of all-or-nothing thinking and it does not serve you. Not sure what gentleness looks or sounds like?

It’s a good loving, inner cheerleader. One that doesn’t let you off the hook (indulgent or permissive) and doesn’t have you feeling like a piece of crap (harsh and shaming.) It sounds a bit like this: “hmmm, my pants are tight. Back to salads and fruit for lunch and no snacks from the break room. You can do that.” And then when considering the snacks while walking by them says something like, “You’re good. That impulse will pass in a few minutes. Keep walking.”

That gentle voice does not say things like “Holy crap, you’re fat! You deserve to wear tight pants as a reminder to get your ass in gear.” And then, walking by the snacks says “Your damn pants are tight. Don’t even look at those cookies, Fatso. That’s right, keep walking.”

One of those voices is loving and the other is not. Loving always wins in the (short and the) long run. Choose loving, gentle, and firm. No matter what the topic for your desired behavior change, gentleness will serve you. Harshness will just add to you feeling worse. Who wants that?

You can do it.

Real change happens over time when it’s combined with other habits, starts and stays small and incremental, and allows for gentleness in the process. Real change is woven into the fabric of daily life and compounds into transformation over time.

Need help? Of course, I’m here for you. Whether you want help setting incremental, helpful goals, being accountable to someone, understanding how gentleness works in your life and inner dialogue, or finding the right approach to meeting your goals and objectives, I am here to help.